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Top > Publications > NDL Newsletter > Back Numbers 2012 > No. 182, April 2012

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 182, April 2012


Takeaki Enomoto and photographs:
excellent observation skills

Fumi Ashina
Modern Japanese Political Documents Division
Reader Services and Collections Department

This article is a translation of the article in Japanese of the same title
in NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 609 (December 2012).

Takeaki Enomoto
Photo 1: Takeaki Enomoto in St. Petersburg
(NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers, 17-5)

You may have heard before the name of the person in Photo 1 as the commander of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s last remnants who surrendered at the Fort Goryokaku, or a high official in the subsequent Meiji regime. It might be difficult to guess from the Russian hat and full-length fur coat, but he is Takeaki Enomoto (1836-1908) with impressive big eyes. Notes on the reverse of the photo say that it was taken in St. Petersburg, which probably means it was taken when he was the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the legation in Russia (1874-1878).

Along with this photo, ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers (held by the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room, Tokyo Main Library) include interesting photos. The Papers contain a photo of Iesato Tokugawa (1863-1940) (photo 2), the 16th head of the Tokugawa clan and the successor of the last Shogun, and Kaishu Katsu (1823-1899) (photo 3), both of which were taken at the Uchida Shashinkan, a leading photo studio of the time. As Enomoto was a former vassal of the Shogun, we can only guess what his feelings were on seeing the photo of Iesato, the Tokugawa family’s head, still young. Keisuke Otori (1833-1911), Taro Ando (1846-1924) and Taichi Tanabe (1831-1915) struck fancy poses compared with photos taken in Japanese photo studios of the time (photo 4). This is no wonder: Elliot & Fry, where the pictures were taken, was a famous photo studio on Baker Street in London.

Iesato Tokugawa at 15 years old
Photo 2: Iesato Tokugawa at 15 years old (right: reverse of the photo)
(NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers, 17-28)

Kaishu Katsu

Photo 3: Kaishu Katsu
(NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers, 17-12)

Keisuke Otori, Taro Ando and Taichi Tanabe

Photo 4: Keisuke Otori, Taro Ando and Taichi Tanabe in 1872
(NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers, 18-38)
Tanabe and Ando (both from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) were on a diplomatic journey in the Iwakura Mission. Otori was studying industry in the U.K.


Enomoto was an expert on photography and headed the Nihon Shashinkai (lit. Japan Photographic Society) founded in 1889. What did he want from photographs, the leading-edge media of the time? At least, it was certainly more than just a hobby.

The photo collection of the Ogasawara Islands taken in 1875 is an example. At that time, the Japanese government embarked on investigation of the Islands intending to confirm their attribution to Japan, and brought Shinji Matsuzaki, a photographer, to photograph them. Getting the photos, Enomoto wrote to his sister that he had created an elaborate plated (Galfan) photo album and enjoyed viewing them thinking about expanding Japanese sovereignty over the south of the Ogasawara Islands (photo 5). This was the viewpoint of Enomoto, knowledgeable about the front-line diplomatic negotiations.

Letter of Takeaki Enomoto addressed to Kangetsuin Suzuki
Photo 5: Letter of Takeaki Enomoto addressed to Kangetsuin Suzuki, September 12, 1876
(NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers, 5-4-1)

Note: In this letter, Enomoto wrote that he “made a folded book and attached a handmade Galfan copper plate with writing ‘Actual scenery of the South Sea Islands, Japanese territory: Ogasawara Islands, photos owned by Enomoto’ on the front cover” and “very much enjoy viewing, as I proposed to purchase the Mariana Islands located south of the Ogasawara Islands from Spain.” Enomoto also wrote of his idea to purchase the former residence of Kuichi Uchida (who took photos 2 and 3) if the price was affordable, which is interesting from the viewpoint of the history of photography.

Shiberia Nikki
Photo 6: Shiberia Nikki
Left: 甲 (NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers,8)
Right: 乙 (NDL call no.: ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers,9)

Reading Shiberia Nikki (lit. Diary in Siberia) (photo 6), a remarkable travel story by Enomoto depicting his homeward trip of 13,000 kilometers mainly by horse and buggy and ship after he finished his duty as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Russia in 1878, we notice that he collected photos of local people, ports and landscape during his journey. Accounts in Shiberia Nikki are backed by Enomoto’s obsessive scrutiny and descriptive skills. He discussed the type of sturgeon served for lunch and “gazed at the shape, counted scales in three lines on its back and found out that there are 35 scales in each line” (September 20, 1878). As seen in such meticulous attention, we cannot help but be amazed that he continued precise observation and recording of products, geography, transportation, weather, race, etc. for two months. It is no wonder that such a keen observer showed interest in photography.

Fifty-six photos in the ENOMOTO Takeaki Papers seem to be only a part of the photos owned by Enomoto. Letters addressed to him reveal that photos of various kinds from political to family were sent to him. Although we have to accept that it is the nature of such documents to be scattered and lost, the photos in the National Diet Library’s custody make us long to see Enomoto’s entire photo collection.

  • Reference (in Japanese):
    • “Naimusho yori Ogasawara-to shasin jotei” Kobunroku, 1876, vol. 263, December 1875 - December 1876, Ogasawara-to shobun ikken, National Archives of Japan call no.: 本館-2A-010-00・公01997100
    • Takamitsu Enomoto, Toru Takanarita, ed., Kindai nihon no bannojin Enomoto Takeaki 1836-1908, Fujiwara Shoten, 2008, NDL Call no.: GK44-J4
    • Enomoto Takeaki Shiberia nikki, Kodansha, 2008, NDL Call no.: GE485-J5